The Campbell County Fire Department is struggling to fill part-time firefighter positions
TheCampbell County Fire Department has experienced problems over the last several years in filling part-time firefighter positions, even as the number of calls for assistance rises each year. It’s part of a broader trend that’s affecting departments across the country.
“Right now, we’re kind of slow, [and] we’ve been seeing that trend for the last several years,” said Campbell County Fire Department Division Chief Dale Izatt. “I believe we’ve only given out between 15 and 20 applications this year so far, and of those, none have come back to the department yet.”
There are currently 32 full-time firefighters and 56 part-time ones covering the nearly 5,000 square miles of the county. Izatt added that Campbell County is one of the few in the state that pays part-time firefighters as many counties rely on volunteers. He added that there are about 30 rural members, who live outside of Gillette or away from full-time fire stations. This doesn’t include an additional 35 to 40 structurally certified members.
“There's a lot of things that come into play, we believe, but it's just kind of hard to tell why you know why we are getting fewer and fewer people each year,” he added. “It’s probably been going on for the last four to five years and it kind of seems like there will be a year where we’ll hand out 50 or 60 applications and then we’ll get 20 back, and then out of those 20, we go through background checks, stuff like that. Last year, we ended up with four individuals in our academy.”
The training process takes approximately six months to complete and consists of attending a training academy one night a week and a few weekends during that time. The state also sets criteria for volunteer and part-time firefighters, in which they must attend a certain number of meetings and training events. These also overlap with some of the department’s requirements.
Even though the county pays its part-time firefighters, Izatt said the pay isn’t anything significant but can supplement their paycheck each month in addition to the pay of their full-time job.
There are also some other benefits that part-time firefighters can make, such as a retirement plan. Despite the shortage, the number of calls continues to increase each year. Izatt said that this equates to approximately 100 to 150 additional calls each year. Ideally, they would like to have 10 part-time firefighters for each of the county’s 10 structural stations. They struggle with attracting from some areas of the county specifically.
“[In] Rozet, we struggle out there to get people to apply and join the department,” he said. "Nicholson Little Farms, Sleepy Hollow, Freedom Hills--those are some of the stations that right now are struggling to get membership. We only have two and sometimes three people at those stations right now.”
Izatt said those who are interested in possibly becoming a part-time firefighter are encouraged to apply and that they’re consistently in need of manpower.